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COA rules on estate representative's banking activity

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has overturned a Lake County judge in an estate case involving a personal representative who conducted banking transactions for an elderly man before his death.

In American Savings, FSB v. Steve H. Tokarski, Successor Personal Rep. of the Estate of John Wroblewski, on Behalf of the Estate, No. 45A04-1105-CC-237, the appellate court reversed and remanded a decision by Lake Superior Judge Gerarld Svetanoff regarding the estate of John Wroblewski that dates back to 2003.

While in his late 80s, Wroblewski named Zorica Milovanovic as his power of attorney and gave her the authority to do tasks such as personal banking transactions. He executed a will naming her the personal representative of his estate, and in June 2003 she used that power of attorney to purchase cashier’s checks which she deposited into a new savings account at American Savings Bank in her name only. After Wroblewski died in 2004, his heirs contested the will and Milovanovic serving as personal representative.

Fifth Third Bank eventually became the successor personal representative, and in 2005 the Lake Superior Court declared Wroblewski’s will invalid because of Milovanovic’s undue influence. Fifth Third requested the savings account records from American Savings Bank, When Steve Tokarski became personal representative in 2007, he filed the lawsuit against American Savings Bank on grounds that the financial institution knew the money was, in fact, for John Wroblewski but allowed Milovanovic to deposit it. That was a breach of contract, the representative claimed.

The trial court found in favor of Tokarski on two counts and for American Savings Bank on a third, relying on a 2010 appellate case known as In re Estate of Rickert to determine American Savings Bank was liable. But the Court of Appeals concluded Rickert is inapplicable to this case because a contract did not arise between American Savings and Wroblewski when Milovanovic opened her savings account. Tokarski provided the trial court with no other basis for a contract between American Savings and Wroblewski and pointed to no designated evidence showing the existence of such a contract, the court found.

As a result, the appellate judges found the trial court erred by granting summary judgment for Tokarski and denying summary judgment for American Savings on the count involving the receipt of cashier’s checks to Milovanovic’s savings account.

The appellate court also found in favor of Tokarski on the issue of the bank’s applying a certificate of deposit to pay off Milovanovic’s mortgage. By deciding the trial court had erred on the first two counts, the appellate judges decided they didn’t need to address the issue of damages and set-off.

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  1. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

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